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Al Gore Returns with Portrait of a Planet Imperiled by Extreme Weather and Extremist Deniers

In Review: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

Frankenstein, Dracula, and Freddy Krueger move over — sounding at times like an Old Testament prophet, Al Gore is back with a spine-tingling big screen depiction of a world on fire that’s at times scarier than a horror movie. In fact, during an address to “Climate Leader” trainees an outraged Gore comments that his righteous rage makes him sound like he’s “on fire.”

photo of an Inconvenient Sequel Photo courtesy of An Inconvenient SequelIn An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore takes viewers across the globe from Greenland (pictured) to Florida to India.

Considering that An Inconvenient Truth scored Oscars in the Best Documentary and Original Song (for Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up”) categories, earned Gore a  shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, plus did boffo box office, many may have expected, in the grand Tinseltown tradition, that a sequel was inevitable. Indeed, Gore might seem similar to those superheroes in endless Hollywood remakes and spin-offs, as he intrepidly globetrots from one global warming hot spot to another. But there’s another far more salient reason for shooting a follow-up: As An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power dramatically shows, the climate crisis depicted a decade ago in 2006’s trendsetting Truth not only continues but has gotten much worse. And although Sequel, unlike its predecessor, isn’t a cinematic visualization of Gore’s much-vaunted slide show lecture, it is nevertheless full of facts and figures — including many that may make your eyes pop and hair stand on end. 

The gallivanting Gore takes us across the globe in Sequel. First, the former senator, vice president and presidential candidate is off on the road to Greenland, investigating glacial melt. Next, he alights in Miami, where the streets are awash in seawater due in part, a wader-wearing Gore states, to the ice he witnessed melting in the Great White North and pouring into the ocean. Commenting on Florida’s climate denying GOP Gov. Rick Scott, Gore asks: “I wonder how the governor can slosh through this and say, ‘I don’t see anything’?”

Gore’s peregrinations take him to India (an important plot point for the film’s denouement) and Tacloban where, in a heartrending sequence, the ex-veep commiserates with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which in 2013 devastated the Philippines with winds moving at an astonishing 196 miles per hour. He visits a cemetery filled with white crosses atop the graves of many of the 6,300-plus people killed by the deadly typhoon. At one point the beleaguered Gore muses, …more

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More and More Greeks Are Moving Out of Cities and Starting Over as Farmers

A beekeeper, an olive farmer, and a mushroom grower share their stories

The seminars offered at the Syngrou Ranch — home of the Athens Institute of Agricultural Sciences — are in high demand, proving that agriculture is trending in Greece. “This semester, we have 699 students enrolled in 24 seminars on 19 different topics,” says Georgos Balotis, director of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences. “A third of our students study to become apiarists.” This makes beekeeping the most popular subject. “The world of the bees is fascinating and beekeeper is a profession you can do in addition to other pursuits,” Balotis explains. This is why so many residents of Athens find this type of work so appealing. “We currently have five beekeeping courses,” he continues, “but our classes on winegrowing, arboriculture, olive culture and aromatic plants are also very popular.” Interest in these seminars peaked in 2013. “During that academic year, we had 400 prospective beekeepers and a total of 2,600 enrolled students.”

photo of Olive farmer in Greecephoto by Kostas Katrios Leonidas Kanalis, 31, harvesting olives. Kanalis turned to farming after losing his his restaurant during the economic crisis.

Vassilis Gionis: “When I’m out in nature, I lose track of time.”

When Vassilis Gionis signed up for a honey-making seminar, he was not looking for an additional source of income, but rather for a way to unwind from his stressful life as an engineer. Today, he is a professional beekeeper in the Prefecture of Ilia on the Peloponnese. Vassilis had been working since his college days and found himself at the verge of burnout. “I was working for two different companies as an engineer. At one point, I worked for two and a half months straight without a single day or weekend off,” he remembers.

“So I started blocking certain afternoons off so I could attend the class,” he says. “And I enjoyed the classes, even though I had been up and running around since six in the morning.” Beekeeping is a family tradition handed down from his grandfather, who used to keep bees to provide honey for the family. Vassilis even got his recently retired mom to attend the class. “Each week she would get on the bus and come to Athens for three days,” he proudly reports. Mother and son both loved the course.

photoname Photo courtesy of Vassilios Gionis Vassilis Gionis harvesting honey. He left a career in engineering to become
a beekeeper.

On a field trip to a beekeeping operation …more

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The Environmental Impact of Essential Oils

A look at how resource-intensive essential oils are made and disposed of

Essential oils have enjoyed a boom in sales over the last decade as Western consumers search for alternatives to chemical-laden products that are toxic both to their bodies and to the planet. Since the first recorded essential oil blend was recorded in Egypt in 1,500 BC, people around the world have been using essential oils for their perceived medicinal properties. A market research study by Grand View Research estimates that the global essential-oils market is expected to reach $11.67 billion by 2022. Such a high level of demand raises two vital questions: Where are all these essential oils coming from, and what is their impact on the environment?

photo of essential oil bottles Photo by Kate WareEssential oils, which are popularly used for their perceived medicinal properties, require significant quantities of plants for production.

To begin with, in order to produce a single pound of essential oil, enormous quantities of plants are required: 10,000 pounds of rose petals, 250 pounds of lavender, 6,000 pounds of melissa plant, 1,500 lemons, and so forth. Due to a variety of factors, large amounts of produce are needed to produce oils. For example, some oils are more difficult to extract because instead of being externally secreted by the plant, the oils are stored in tiny cavities or ducts within the plant. Other oils provide small yields in general. For example, Bay Leaf can be expected to provide a 3 percent yield during distillation, whereas Rose Petals typically provide only a .006 percent yield. According to Nicole Nelson, marketing corrdinator for herbal distribution retailer Mountain Rose Herbs, “Weather can also greatly affect the amount of oil that a plant produces from year to year.” 

In light of this, it’s important to understand how plants for these resource-intensive products are farmed. The majority of popular essential-oils companies source their raw materials from corporate farms that turn out large quantities of plants. As with the cultivation of products on many large farms, pesticide usage is common. And there are currently no organic certifications specifically for essential oils, which large companies like YoungLiving and DoTerra cite as a reason for foregoing organic certification all together.  In the end, consumers are left largely on their own when it comes to discovering which pesticides are used on crops that are used for essential oils — especially since most companies aren’t voluntarily giving up that information.

One solution to large, corporate farming is wild harvesting, but this too has its …more

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Dozens of Laotian Elephants ‘Illegally Sold to Chinese Zoos,’ Says Wildlife Investigator

Laos accused of breaking CITES treaty to protect endangered species, China of encouraging live animal trade

Dozens of elephants from Laos are being illegally bought by China to be displayed in zoos and safari parks across the country, according to wildlife investigator and film-maker Karl Ammann.

photo of elephants in Laos Photo by Garrett ZieglerElephants at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos. Wildlife investigator and filmmaker Karl Ammann says he stumbled upon an illicit trade in elephants between Laos and China earlier this year.

According to Ammann, so-called captive elephants in Laos sell for about £23,000 before being walked across the border into China by handlers or “mahouts” near the border town of Boten. Thereafter they are transported to receiving facilities, which buy them from the agents for up to £230,000 per animal. “That is a nice mark-up,” says Ammann, “and makes it exactly the kind of commercial transaction which under CITES rules is not acceptable.”

Ammann and his crew stumbled on the illicit trade between Laos and China earlier this year, while investigating the sale of 16 Asian elephants from Laos to a safari park in Dubai. None of the elephants had the necessary permits for export. The translocation was stopped by a direct order from the new Laotian prime minister at the last moment, while an Emirates Airlines Cargo 747 was already on the tarmac in Vientiane, the country’s capital.

“We then looked into the background of these elephants and met with several of the owners of the elephants, as well as the local agent who arranged this sale,” explains Ammann. Delving deeper, he and his investigative team discovered that the trade in live elephants from Laos mainly involved China, with almost 100 animals ending up in Chinese zoos and facilities.

Many mahouts told Ammann on camera that their elephants are captive-bred but have been sired by a wild bull elephant. To avoid stud costs, mahouts in Laos tie captive-bred females to trees in the forest so that they can be mated with wild bulls. Under Cites Appendix I, an elephant with a wild parent in an uncontrolled setting is not considered captive-bred and therefore may not be sold commercially.

Almost 100 Asian elephants are believed to have been sold from Laos to China over the past couple of years. Chunmei Hu, an animal welfare advocate in China, says she has already established that six zoos — all government-owned — have a confirmed 38 elephants from Laos, with 50 more likely to be Laotian. …more

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Planting Resilience to Climate Change

In Honduras, coastal communities are embracing native plants as a means to mitigate climate impacts

Aurelia Arzú inspects the cocoplum patch and reaches in to pluck the ripest fruits. It’s early in the year, and the season is just beginning, so the bush is loaded with edible, plum-sized fruit ripening from yellow to pink in the unrelenting afternoon sun.

Arzú bites into the cocoplum, quite literally eating the fruits of her labor. Together with other local Garifuna women, she planted cocoplum, seagrape, and other native coastal plants on and around the sand dunes in an effort to halt their advance and prevent further displacement of Santa Rosa de Aguán community residents.

photo of Honduras native plantsphoto Sandra Cuffe Aurelia Arzú inspects a cocoplum bush planted by local Garifuna women, selecting the ripest fruit to eat.

“It fills me with pride to see this and to know that the women helped protect our community,” says Arzú, looking out at the burgeoning vegetation.

Arzú's footprints crisscross the sandy expanse, tracing a path from the Caribbean Sea lapping at the northern coast of Honduras to the dunes now dotted with cocoplum and seagrape. Twenty years ago, the area looked nothing like this. Where there are now dunes, there used to be houses. One of the three main streets in Santa Rosa de Aguán once ran roughly where a narrow beach now separates the dunes from the sea, says Arzú.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch and subsequent flooding altered the landscape and coastline. A year or so later, wind whipping in from the sea began to shape sand dunes, and the dunes started to advance into the community. Between the flooding, altered coastline, and blowing sand, hundreds of local residents were displaced, forced to relocate to other settlements and communities. The advancing sand swept through a row of houses, as well as the entire northwestern tip of the community. Today, however, the vegetation planted around the community by Garifuna women helps hold the dunes at bay and creates a natural barrier offering some protection from future storms and coastal erosion.

Honduras has the distinction of being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In the face of such great risk, Santa Rosa de Aguán is just one of several coastal communities taking action to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. Their solution isn't high-tech or even high-cost: it's native plants and trees.

Honduras tops the list of countries that have been most vulnerable to extreme weather events over the past two decades. Each year, Germanwatch, …more

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The US Is Unprepared to Clean Up Arctic Oil Spill

Coast Guard issues warning as House considers opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling

For months now America’s climate denying President, Donald Trump, has been manoeuvring to open up the Arctic to oil drilling, in another act of defiance against his predecessor, Barak Obama.

photo of coast guard in Arctic Photo by Coast Guard News A US Coast Guard icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. The Coast Guard has warned that the US is unprepared to clean up oil in the icy Arctic waters.

Back in April, Trump signed an executive order to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to large parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.

“We’re opening it up…. Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said as he signed the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

The executive order instructed the Interior Department to re-examine policies put into place by Obama, who in one of his last acts as President had restricted offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic until 2022. Obama had banned drilling in both areas saying they were “simply not right to lease.”

As Trump signed the order his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, told reporters “We’re going to look at everything. A new administration should look at the policies and make sure the policies are appropriate.”

Last month, the White House made further attempts to overturn the Obama administration’s five-year plan forbidding oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Interior Secretary Zinke said in a speech: “There’s a consequence when you put 94 percent of our offshore off limits. There’s a consequence of not harvesting trees. There’s a consequence of not using some of our public lands for creation of wealth and jobs.”

Then earlier this month, the Trump administration granted Italian oil company Eni the right to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska. As InsideClimate News reported “Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.”

In response, Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.”

And now in a devastating uncompromising rebuke to Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the head of the US Coast Guard has agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity: The United States cannot successfully clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, who was the Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil …more

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Pennsylvania Nuns Build Chapel in Middle of Cornfield in Effort to Block Pipeline

Catholic order files religious freedom lawsuit to keep Atlantic Sunrise pipeline off their land

Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania are resisting plans to build a $3 billion pipeline for gas obtained by fracking through its land by creating a rudimentary chapel along the proposed route and launching a legal challenge, citing religious freedom.

photo of climate march Photo by Mark Dixon Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania have built a chapel and filed a legal challenge to stop the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which passes through their land. A local activist group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, has pledged to mount a vigil at the chapel if the nuns lose their case.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ order has filed a complaint against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in a bid to keep the pipeline off their land. The nuns’ lawyers argue in court papers that a decision by FERC to force them to accommodate the pipeline is “antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.”

The Adorers, an order of 2,000 nuns across the world, have made protection of the environment central to their mission. The plan for the pipeline “goes against everything we believe in — we believe in the sustenance of all creation,” Sister Linda Fischer, 74, told the Washington Post.

The 183-mile Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is “designed to supply enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes by connecting producing regions in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states,” its website says.

It is an extension of the Transco pipeline, which runs more than 10,000 miles from from Texas to New York, and will carry gas extracted from the Marcellus shale region since fracking was permitted by the state.

photoname Photo by Adorers of the Blood of Christ A section of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is planned to run under land owned by
the Adorers. Earlier this month, the nuns dedicated an outdoor chapel at the site.

Williams, the company building the pipeline, wants to pay farm owners to allow it to dig up land, install the line, and return the land to farm use. It has offered compensation for lost crops and regular inspections to ascertain if the pipeline affects agricultural output.

About 30 landowners who refused to do a deal with Williams now face being forced to comply by …more

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